Want something to make you smile as you slug through the final days before Christmas?
It will require you to reacquaint yourself with my friend Brian Wood. I wrote about him in 1994 and again in 2017. He was remarkable then, and he is even more so today.
Brian is a representative in the Governor’s Office for Constituent Services. He listens to problems and complaints from the citizenry. His job is to find them help and to tell them, in a diplomatic way, when he can’t solve their issues. “Basically, I get yelled at a lot,” he says. “But I love serving people.”
Brian is a young man I met when he was a very talkative kid in elementary school. There was no conversation about sports that he could not initiate or dive into.
He recently recalled doing the play-by-play commentary of boys playing basketball on the school court. “I guess people thought that it was goofy. But everything is goofy when you’re 8 years old,” he said.
Brian would occasionally stop and talk to me when he saw me working in my front yard. He usually picked the subject. In 1994, I wrote a column about our interaction and how he amazed with me with his wealth of knowledge and the ability to convey his thoughts. I was especially impressed when I discovered he had learning disabilities and dyslexia.
Last year, some 23 years later, I met a young man working at a pizza restaurant. He stopped me and asked if I remembered him. He told me he was Brian Wood, and that I had written a column about him in 1994.
I was speechless.
I discovered that through perseverance and his faith, Brian had made his way through elementary school, home schooling and finished at a high school for students with learning challenges. He was 20. And, after climbing a mountain of issues, Brian graduated from LSU.
So, I wrote another column about our chance meeting and his remarkable accomplishments.
A few months ago, I just happened to be on the fourth floor of the Capitol when the receptionist asked: “Do you know that young man you wrote about, Brian Wood? He works here.”
As it turned out, soon after the column’s publication, someone that Brian had met while working at the pizza restaurant asked him if he was the same person written about in the column. The man then got him an internship at the Capitol, and later Brian got hired in his current position.
“I look forward to getting up every day. I work with some really smart people, and I enjoy helping people,” he said. “I especially like to help people in the disability community.”
Brian occasionally gets frustrated — not about the callers that yell at him, but because he can’t help everybody. “I have to focus on the victories,” he said.
Brian said his dyslexia can sometimes be a pain. “I still can’t spell worth anything,” he laughed.
However, he has a piece of technology called Dragon Naturally Speaking that allows him to speak into a headset, and the words pop up on his computer screen in a document format. That’s how he writes. It’s what helped him get through college.
Brian still works at the pizza restaurant several days a week. “Those people gave me a job when no one else would. I like being there and working with people . . . Plus, they know I’m dependable. I’ll come in and cover for someone when they can’t make it.”
Another reason he works two jobs is that he was receiving a monthly Social Security disability check until he got the job with the state: “You know, I didn’t want to be on that disability check all of my life. If I had to have two jobs to make up the difference, then I would work two jobs. I have never shied away from hard work.”
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Brian says since being a sports commentator or a sports information director might not be in his future, he eventually wants to go into writing policy in state government. “I want to write the words that become legislation,” he said. His degree from LSU is in political science. “I would like to write detailed analysis and policy statements,” he said.
The big thing for him right now is connecting with his family for Christmas. “Family and church have always been a major part of my life,” he said, adding that Christmas just makes it more special. “It’s about kith and kin,” he said, using an old-fashioned term for friends and family.
I smiled after our conversation ended. Merry Christmas to you, Brian, and to all of the amazing and decent people like you who make us better just for knowing you.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.